Golden Age Theater
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii (Spotlight)
We are back in the golden territory again. Patlabor 2 is a magnificent classic that could hold its own with any film today.
Patlabor 2 was released 4 years after the first movie, and Mamoru Oshii had continued to drive digital animation forward. The animation is more crisp and full of motion past what could be done in the first film. Oshii had also seemingly found an interest in the spy thriller dynamic.
A Change in Focus
The Patlabor series had built its reputation based on the action, slice of life, comedy, and large cast interactions. A balanced effort to contrast the Space Opera heavy genre of Macross, Battleship Yamato, and Gundam. The first film, also done by Oshii, had dropped a lot of this in order to dish out the central narrative. It was a good film, but in this second outing Oshii really made what he wanted. He even reset by having a similar military introduction scene during the credits.
It has been 3 years since the events of the first film, and our cast has mostly moved on to other roles. They still back up our new main focus of the two commanders, but their story is moved out of view. Like poor Ota, having to teach newbies how to fight.
This serves a great dual purpose. Patlabor 2 can be a stand-alone film without the hinderance of the past unless convenient, and Oshii could question modern Japan’s society in a new context.
Goto’s Spy Diplomacy
The story revolves around a former military trainer, Labor innovator, and love interest of Commander Nagumo. He holds a grudge and uses a series of attacks framed as mistakes to force Japan’s upper management into an odd arms race against itself.
While this is all occurring, our clever friend Commander Goto is on a spy thriller chase to figure it all out. Dealing with a mysterious JSDF spook that is feeding out information, Goto is encouraged into investigating the events without raising a lot of noise. With the help of the Patlabor crew, Goto finds a way to get Nagumo through the battle field to meet our antagonist.
While Goto takes up a lot of the screen time, this is almost exclusively in long and very slow discussions of the politics involved with the matter, while panning over large industrial districts and aquarium tanks. The scenes are agonizingly slow, emphasising the non-action issues of the Japan society of the time. It draws every moment of tension into it, and just as you think that it cannot be handled anymore, GOTO SNAPS! Then it is a quick, action packed ride to Nagumo’s finale, leaving the audience drained from the experience.
The Beginning of Ghost in the Shell
While Patlabor 2 is a great movie on its own, the lineage to one of anime’s masterpiece works looms large. Goto and Nagumo are clear starting points for the later duo of GitS, and the social stances against the government does a slight shift into a social AI issue. The changes are big, and the films are both their own work, but seeing Oshii forming this style is very fun.
Nagumo’s journey is pretty stifled in the film, Goto doing most the work of filling air time, but her position within the story is central. From the friendly connected nature with her partner Goto, to the heart torn love of the past, her journey in the film is stunning. Her strength of character is like a bedrock that holds the whole film in place, both hindering and forwarding our plot.
Mobile Police Patlabor 2: The Movie. So far the best film in our Golden Age Theater project, and a solid recommendation for anyone looking for a great spy thriller film. The story is stand alone but knowing the previous works will add to the story as well.
Oshii’s direction, action, animation, music choice, and social commentary are all on point here. Goto and Nagumo hone a crafted central narrative that deals in pure diplomacy and brute force, with no romance and the only love interest is faceless for 90% of the film. Slow paced but fantastic in its control and release. A top notch anime that everyone should see.